Two nights ago, I was fortunate to be invited to Mercedes-Benz‘s 125th Anniversary Dinner at James Beard House. This intimate dinner (the guest list, as I was told, consisted of about 46 people) was cooked by previous James Beard Award winners: Chef Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park, Chef Dan Kluger of ABC Kitchen, Chef John Besh of Restaurant August, Chef Karen DeMasco of Locanda Verde and mixologist Julie Reiner of Lana Kai.
Personally, this would be considered one of the most special moments in my life, as this is an equivalent of visiting a food god’s home. (Yes, it’s my first time here. Beard was a prominent American chef who changed the culinary landscape of 1940s and onward by making American food a bit more upscale and gourmet.)
The interesting thing while walking down West 12th Street toward the Beard House was the red carpet and two very different cars from Mercedes-Benz (one being a replica of the first Benz the DRP-37435 and the other is a very stunning SLS AMG Supercar).
Since I was early for dinner, I had the opportunity to photograph this prestigious group – and I’m fortunate to have my photograph taken with them. This is my best birthday gift ever.
The humorous moment during this photo shoot was when Geoff Day, Mercedes-Benz’s Director of Communications started up the SLS AMG Supercar and revved it for a couple of seconds, many people’s hearts were swooned by how that beautiful car purred. I heard Chef Besh half-jokingly said, “I’ll take two.” to the executive.
After all the fun was done, everyone is back into the kitchen and started to assemble their hors d’oeurves and mix/shake/stir the cocktails for the guests.
During cocktail reception, we’re served four different hors d’oeuvres, each cooked from each chef. Chef Humm served smoked sturgeon sabayon with chive oil (if you read/saw my early birthday lunch post, it’s very familiar). Chef Besh passed out Chinese soup spoons of crispy oyster topped with Louisiana caviar, crispy meets velvety oyster meat with a creamy sauce on the bottom of the spoon. Chef Kluger went seasonal for his roasted Kabocha squash toast, fresh ricotta and apple cider vinegar. Squash never tasted so good and complex on a slice of grilled bread.
After the hour reception was up, we’re all told to go upstairs, which used to be Beard’s library and bedroom1. All tables were set with Mercedes-Benz insigne on the cloth napkins and each table has a printed menu with the chefs’ and mixologist’s signatures as a memorabilia to this special dinner.
The first course was beet salad with chèvre frais and caraway created by Chef Humm. Beautiful, flavorful and colorful, as one would expect if you eaten his food or looked through the pages of his Eleven Madison Park cookbook (which will be officially released tomorrow). I liked the use of crunchy, anise-flavored caraway crumbles paired with the sweet beets.
Chef Besh and his sous cooked the second course of Redfish court bouillon with Gulf Shrimp and blue crab pearls.
Since I’m not too familiar with Southern cooking (as he’s from New Orleans), this was the most intriguing to me. The court bouillon was rich and flavorful of seafood and the redfish was tender and moist despite the fact this fish is lean (compared to oilier fish like salmon or trout). The pearls were large tapioca pearls steeped in blue crab stock to give some interesting texture to the dish.
Chef Kluger presented the final savory course roast suckling pig, smoked bacon marmalade and braised turnips. When he explained to the room how it’s cooked, it’s essentially roasting the suckling pig whole, break it down and put it back together so you have the tender pork brick with the perfect crispy skin on top. The smoked bacon marmalade made this dish insanely delicious. It’s a pork dish multiplied ten times with pork flavor. It blew my mind.
Every course was paired with delicious wines (as you can see my wall of wines). Started with Veuve Cliquot Rosé Champagne, 2010 Fontanassa Gavi di Gavi, 2005 Domaine Jessiaume Santennay Rouge, 2010 Blanchet Pouilly Fumé Blanc, 2005 Senard Chorey Les Baume, 2007 De Forville Barbaresco, and 2003 Chateau Paizos Tokaji 3 Puttonuyos (the latter for the dessert course).
Chef DeMasco created for dessert a chocolate brown butter cake with hot fudge, roasted pear, and hazelnut brown butter gelato. Her dessert was rustic but very sophisticated flavors – playing on the nutty flavor without being too sweet. I was completely enamored with her gelato.
She also made petit fours. Two-tiered tower of her assortment of various cookies and what I think were cubes of lamington (sponge cake coated in chocolate and flaked coconut).
Each guest left with a parting gift of a box of Mercedes-Benz’ customized wine stoppers that are shaped as gear shifts from their older model convertibles (I’m guesstimating it’s one of their models in the 1950s). I like the retro look of the wine stoppers and definitely will be using them when I have many open bottles of wine during the holidays and beyond.
Many thanks again to Mercedes-Benz for throwing this amazing party; The Beard House/Foundation for hosting this dinner; the Beard winners: Chef Humm, Besh, Kluger, DeMasco and Reiner who cooked for us, and the many people who run the show behind the scenes. This was an evening I could not forget.
For more photos of this evening, please click through my slideshow below (or view my Flickr set, if Flash isn’t available):
1. Trivia about Beard’s house upstairs: When you head towards the back, part of the ceiling is mirrored and if you go to the bathroom on this floor, it’s almost completely mirrored. Oddly cool.